We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


Jamie Barton at Zankel Hall (photo courtesy of Carnegie Hall)

Within our blog reside about ten encomia directed toward this arresting mezzo-soprano. What more can we say about her commanding stage presence, her chocolate stout timbre, her perfect phrasing, and her linguistic skills?

Let us just focus on last night's sold out recital at Carnegie Hall which drew torrents of applause, a standing ovation, and demands for encores. The particular encore that closed the recital was, interestingly, the same aria that we sat in the rain to hear at the Naumberg Bandshell in Central Park! The occasion was a celebration of Richard Tucker's 100th birthday.

Permit us to quote from the August 2013 review..."Mezzo Jamie Barton tackled "Acerba voluttà" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur as if it were a piece of cake.   Her creamy lush voice and intense stage presence were a joy to behold."

Last night we were indoors and well sheltered from the elements. Moreover we were able to hear every dramatic phrase of this aria sung by the soon to be discarded Princesse de Bouillon, bearer of the poisoned violets. This was a real barn burner and far outweighed the rest of the program.

Ms. Barton always creates her own programs, this time in collaboration with her excellent pianist Kathleen Kelly. With the confidence of knowing that her audience will follow her wherever she goes, she makes every program unusual and interesting with the old and the new, the borrowed and the blue. She's one of those artists who could hold our interest if she sang the phonebook and there were moments when we thought she was.

Take for example Iain Bell's setting of text by e.e. cummings. The poetry has a certain amount of visual interest as the words are scattered upon the page but the music they inspired was not music to our ears. The work was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and, since this was a world premiere, it generated a certain amount of excitement, especially as performed by Ms. Barton. We do not care to ever hear it again.

On the other hand, we absolutely loved what we considered to be the centerpiece of the program, which we have heard and enjoyed many times, but more than ever last night as Ms. Barton put her own original and highly dramatic stamp on it.  We are speaking of Joseph Haydn's secular oratorio Arianna a Naxos.

Poor Arianna (Ariadne) saved the life of Teseo (Theseus)  and sailed away with him only to be "ghosted". Although the work dates back to about 1789, the theme could not be more contemporary, as experienced by women attempting to date in the electronic age.  It was far more contemporary than Libby Larsen's setting of three mid-20th c. American women poets in Love after 1950, from which we heard three selections.

There was plenty of humor and irony and the musical styles varied from the bluesy sound of "Boys Lips" to the rock and roll sound of "Big Sister Says". Again, it was Ms. Barton's delivery that made them interesting.

Ms. Barton had a theme for the evening, wanting to present works that were somehow overlooked because of the gender of the composer or poet, or works that are not generally sung by a woman. She is good at breaking barriers, she is! 

Her delivery of Ravel's "Chanson à boire" from Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée was sheer glee and, indeed, the first time we have heard it sung by a woman. Singers love to play inebriation as much as actors love death scenes. And why shouldn't a woman enjoy getting tipsy and very very happy! We are thinking of "Je suis grise" from Offenbach's operetta La Périchole.

Henry Duparc's "Phidylé" was sung with initial delicacy and final expansion and gave us maximum aural pleasure, as did Richard Strauss' "Cäcilie".

If we have said nothing about the opening songs by Elinor Remick Warren, Amy Beach, and the sisters Boulanger, it is because we neither loved them nor hated them.

This recital was part of the excellent Jula Goldwurm Pure Voice Series at Zankel Hall. 

Ms. Barton deserves every accolade, every standing ovation, every prize she has gotten, and all that audience adulation.  She is every inch a star. We confess that of all the times we have heard her, our favorite moment was up close and personal at the Greene Space of WQXR when we felt like we got to know her in a more personal way. She is truly our Down Home Diva.

(c) meche kroop

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